Category Archives: Thinking about feeling

Learning to cry

I was bullied a fair bit as a child. I learned that mostly what bullies want is to make you cry, and that when you cry, the childhood ones soon lose interest. I learned to cry quickly, that to get it over and done with was safest. I did not cry for myself then, I was crying to placate other people with my pain and humiliation.

Somewhere in my early teens I changed tack. I wasn’t going to be humiliated any more. I wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction of making me cry. And so, in a determined way I became someone who mostly did not cry in front of other people. I became emotionally unavailable. There were still people intent on reducing me to tears, but I didn’t co-operate with them anymore. It didn’t solve everything, but I liked me better as someone stony and refusing to show distress.

In my twenties, the man I was married to told me that all of my emotional expressions were suspect and seemed manipulative. What tears there were he treated as emotional blackmail. I tried harder with the not crying around anyone. At this point, in my forties, I’m really good at not crying. I’m so good at it that I don’t reliably let out emotions that I need to express and I’m working to change this.

It does help to go off on my own. Making solitary physical space to cry in makes it easier to let go. Having people around me who will let me go off and deal with my feelings in this way is also really helpful.  I notice that comforting me shuts me down, so I’ve started asking the people I am closest to not to do that, and to give me the space to cry. If I need to cry I don’t really want to be soothed, which feels like pressure to stop crying.

I’m going to be working on this. Giving myself permission to cry. Giving myself space to cry. Treating my tears as acceptable and necessary, and not something to be ashamed of. Yes, emotional expressions from me may not always be comfortable for everyone else, but I’m learning to be ok with that. At the moment, I am safe, and the people around me are not going to become dangerous to me if I make them feel slightly uncomfortable. I’m also not dealing with anyone for whom making me cry is entertaining and there is no one in my life using my tears to disempower me. I can afford to cry.

Unexpressed grief is a heavy thing to carry. Letting that out of my body might be messy, but it will be better moving forward.


My candle burns at both ends

If there are two ways a person is expected to be, I will usually be both of them. I need a great deal of introvert time, but I am also an extrovert and I need the spaces for that part of me. I’m really feeling that in the enforced quiet of lockdown. I’m a big fan of logical thinking, but increasingly I’m using the intuition that had been on hold for years. I’m rational and emotional – both of those things, intensely, often at the same time. I’m neurotic and stable and given that question set can usually say ‘both’ to any answer. I do it with gender identity too, and with attraction.

I do it with belief. I hold atheism and spirituality and the possibility of deity all at the same time.

How I think about it when I’m not dealing with anyone else, is just that I’m ambidextrous. I am also ambidextrous.

It’s tricky in that people seem to like tidying themselves up into these boxes, into personality type, and being mostly ambidextrous, I’m always on the outside of that. I don’t fit. I hate it when people try and pin me down and make me fit. I hate it even more if anyone tries to reassure me that I’m normal and that really I’m X,Y or Z. Some fifteen or more years after the event and  I am still cross about the person who tried to tell me that there was nothing wrong with my sexuality, and went on to affirm my straight femininity for me. It doesn’t help. I hate the boxes.

I minored in psychology, many years ago and I spent time with the way in which people like to divide people up into types and label them. I recognise this as part of how we identify people we have something in common with, and as coming from a desire to better understand how people operate. But, as someone who mostly doesn’t fit, I also find it alienating. There has never been a language in all of that to help me identify people who are all the things, and with whom I can share that.

I have a suspicion that a lot of non-binary folk are people who have also rejected this kind of binaryness too. I don’t like binaries, I don’t like the yes/no in/out us/them thinking that goes with it. I want more room. I want that broad spectrum of possibilities I can hold between my two ambidextrous hands.

If you too are ambidextrous and tired of the small boxes and the not belonging, I offer you solidarity. I don’t know if borrowing this word is going to be very useful, but I’ve found it comforting, so perhaps others will too.

(The title of this blog is a reference to a poem by Edna St Vincent Millay, which can be read as meaning bisexuality https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/14095/first-fig )


The impacts of gaslighting

I’m writing this post in the aftermath of the UK Prime Minister and other leading figures telling us that when their man broke the rules he wasn’t breaking the rules. Also if we loved our families we’d have broken the rules. Weeks of difficulty seem meaningless in face of this. People who have suffered greatly while trying to do the right thing are reeling, disorientated and in distress. This is what gaslighting does to people.

I know what’s going on and I can see the process. It will have a much harder impact on people who did not think they were being lied to and who trusted this leadership. Gaslighting drives people mad, and I wait to see with a heavy heart how all this will play out. For some people, it will be a quiet fall into despair and dysfunction. Some people will freeze up and become unable to act or make decisions. Some will lose the plot entirely and what they do will be hard to predict. How many in which category? How much mental health damage done? How much more pain inflicted?

My body is heavy and sluggish this morning. I feel exhausted and it is hard to push back and persuade myself to get busy. There are things I need to do, but in face of all this, there are voices in my head suggesting there’s no point even trying. There is no win available. I’ve been a victim of gaslighting before and one of the major impacts of what’s happening on the national scale, is that it is bringing up for me a lot of unwanted memory about how that felt when it happened on a personal scale.

It is so hard to resist – something people who haven’t experienced it tend to under-estimate. Disorientated, second guessing yourself, no longer knowing what to believe or who to trust and feeling like you are losing the plot – it makes a person so easy to manipulate, or just unable to defend themselves.

When everything is this confusing, anything that sounds plausibly like a calm and sensible suggestion becomes incredibly attractive. I worry about what’s going to seem persuasive.

Mental health is a delicate thing. Humans are more inherently fragile than most of us want to believe. Not recognising that is of itself a vulnerability, because when we get into shit like this we can be slow to realise we are being broken and are in danger. But, looking at the distress, despair and confusion in the UK right now, we are being broken and we are in danger and we need to do as much as we can to assert a functioning reality, look after each other and build sanity and mutual support.


Druidry and rescue

This is a tested approach for dealing with someone in emotional crises. In an ideal situation it would just be a case of grabbing some professional help, but mostly there isn’t any of that to be had, so if someone close to you is in crisis, you may be all they have.

This approach needs handling with the calm authority you would bring to leading a meditation or a ritual. That means you may well use your emotional range to get things done, but you have to do so from a place of love, strength and confidence.

  1. Make non-threatening physical contact. It helps focus attention. If someone has disappeared into themselves, and isn’t functioning, touch is a good way of getting their attention. Put a hand on their shoulder, hold their hand, that kind of thing.
  2. If you don’t know what’s happening, ask, and listen without judgement. Say nothing that will undermine them, or invalidate their feelings. You may not agree with what they are feeling and why, but if you bring that up now you will only make things worse. Don’t criticise, avoid anything that could be taken as you saying these feelings are not reasonable or valid – you have to start from where the person is right now. No one is ever rescued by being made to feel that their emotions are somehow wrong. Your understanding is essential.
  3. Validate their feelings. Tell them you understand why they feel as they do. Recognise the context in which this is happening to them. Empathise with them. If they don’t talk or you don’t need to ask, verbally empathise. Tell them as much as you can about what you understand of what’s happening and why it’s a reasonable response.
  4. Using your empathy, you need to persuade the person that you are inside this situation with them. Not that you feel exactly the same, but you are in there, feeling what is happening. You may need to cry for them, but be careful not to make it about you.
  5. Refuse to leave them in this place. Tell them you are with them, and that you can get them out. Believe that you can walk them out of this place. One breath at a time. One step at a time. This is where your pathworking/ritual skills really come in. You have to walk them out. Keep it in the present tense, don’t talk about the future too much. Take a ‘this is what we’re going to do right now,’ tone. Keep it simple. Reassure them that they can get through this. The rest you will have to make specific to what’s happening, but it is your empathy and your being in there with them that will enable you to pull them out a little way. You do not need to fix everything right now, you just need to get your person to engage with you and consider that things could be better. Your love, determination and compassion are key here. Don’t use emotional blackmail. It is ok to say ‘I need you’ or ‘I don’t want to live without you’ but don’t say ‘stop doing this to me I can’t bear it’ because that kind of thing will push them deeper in. Make it about them and what they need. They probably do need to feel needed, but not wholly responsible for you.
  6. As soon as you have them engaged with you, make some physical interventions. Do things that will be grounding and physically supportive – hot drinks, food, a blanket, getting them to bed, or under a shower, or into a bath and fresh clothes. Brush their hair, massage their feet, make them a hot water bottle, get them outside for some fresh air, or to a window. From this point onwards, focus on physical care – it supports mental health, is a good expression of love and support and creates space in which they can keep talking. Encourage them to keep talking, but don’t push hard, talking is often exhausting when in crisis. It may take a few rounds to deal with what is happening.
  7. When things are stable, consider the underlying issues and what can be done to tackle them. Do not try and do this when the person is in crisis, they won’t have the resources and may be overwhelmed and intimidated.

Dealing with burnout

Everything is harder at the moment. Everything takes longer and requires more effort and almost everyone I know is struggling with concentration, with energy levels and with feeling overwhelmed. These are all ingredients for burnout. Things that would not normally put a person on their knees might do so in the current crisis. People who are not used to experiencing burnout may find it happening to them.

Having a long history of routinely burning myself out, this is something I’ve learned the hard way how to deal with, so I thought I’d share some insights.

Firstly, what not to do. Toughing it out. Stoicism. Fake it until you make it. Trying harder. Leaning in. Pushing through it. What these kinds of approaches do, is drive you deeper into burnout. If you are spinning out of control and heading into crisis, pushing through will not save you. Equally, if you’ve got through something by pushing, it wasn’t burnout, it was a bad day and there is a lot of difference.

It can be tempting to hide it and pull away from other people. Much depends on what works for you. If peace, silence, solitude and rest are the best things to heal you, then dealing with it privately may be your best bet. If you need holding, witnessing, cheerleading and supporting then you need to talk to your closest people about what’s going on, and ask for their help and support on whatever terms make sense.

One way or another, you need to recharge. Sometimes this is literally about rest and sleep. Sometimes it means needing to move your body more, or take better care around food. You may need to recharge your mind and dig in with nurturing things. If you don’t have go-to nurturing things for bad days, it is now urgently important to find out what will sustain you.

It can be tempting to escape into something mind numbing. If your primary need is for rest, this will help you. If your primary need is for nourishment, this can make things far worse. It may not be obvious, if you are new to this, what you need most.

Burnout, for me, has always been to some degree impacted on by my relationships with people. A habit of giving more than I can afford, of not saying when I’m in trouble, and of not asking for help. I have a lot of issues around expecting my relationships to be utilitarian. But, this time, I didn’t do that. I asked the people who are closest to me to look after me, and they did, they piled in without hesitation. On Thursday morning I started crying in what, for me, is classic burnout style. In the past, I’ve got into those and random crying and overwhelm can go on for days, weeks thereafter. The people I asked for help pulled me out of the nose dive. I was not instantly ok, but the space appeared to start looking after myself and to get back on top of things.


Life with a face

One of my lockdown projects has been to try and change my relationship with my appearance. I’ve blogged about it before – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/04/04/a-body-challenge/

My face has always felt like something to apologise for. I don’t usually do anything with it to try and make it more appealing – makeup tends to leave me feeling more horrible about myself, not less so. However, working with facepaint in recent weeks, and putting the results online has taught me some stuff.

People who like me, like my face. I’ve had a lot of affirming feedback. There are people willing to assert that they find me beautiful, with or without the facepaint. This has been a deeply emotive journey and one I did not expect and am trying to get to grips with. I’ve been working to try and feel that my face is acceptable and good enough, I have difficulty processing ideas of beauty and worth, but, there they are and I acknowledge and honour them and will try and figure out what to do with this.

I have learned that cameras are not truth. Makeup changes how skin responds to light – as does face paint. Changing the lighting changes how my face looks. Shifting the angle of my head in relation to the camera changes how my face looks. With patience I can get a range of images, more and less good, and it is ok, perhaps, to pick out the better ones. I am not the worst the camera can come up with.

Paint has given me the space to be playful with my face, to think about myself in different ways, to change the rules that live in my head. It is clearly the start of the journey, as I have a lot of issues with my body and how I do, and do not inhabit it and there have been some startling lessons on that score in recent weeks, too.

To re-imagine my face as acceptable is still a process, but more thinkable. To know there are people who like my face makes a lot of odds. I’ve got an exception thing for Tom where I have managed to accept how he feels about me because it seemed like it was just him, but perhaps it isn’t. That my face may not cause feelings of horror and dismay in everyone else who sees it. That the accident of my face is not something I need to feel ashamed of. I’ve never responded to anyone else with the loathing that my own face and body provoke in me, and perhaps I can figure out how to be more accepting of myself.


What causes abuse?

With deaths from domestic violence increased under lockdown it seemed like a good time to talk about the causes of abuse.

What causes abuse?

100% of abuse is caused by abusers. They may take opportunities, find excuses and justifications in their circumstances, but the cause of abuse, is abusers.

I got very upset last weekend seeing content on Facebook about how we might facilitate or enable abuse. That if we choose to stay, we are choosing to be abused. Abuse happens in a context, and it is usual for that context to include a process of undermining self esteem, destroying self confidence, getting the victim to doubt their own judgement and generally getting them so mentally fragile that they think they deserve what is done to them. If you think you are too strong, or too clever to be caught up by that, think again. Human minds are fragile.

The people who are most vulnerable to abuse are the people who care and feel responsible. It’s much easier to blame someone who is inclined to take responsibility and try and fix things. People who care are easier to manipulate, and easier to persuade. They give second, third, fourth chances. They hear the pathetic excuses, and the promises to do better. They want to help. And I am not prepared to accept this as a weakness, or an inadequacy, or a way of being in the world that justifies abuse. Taking advantage of someone’s good nature is all about the abuser, and not a failing on the part of the victim.

Of course there are a lot of people who enable and facilitate abuse. They do it by pretending it isn’t happening. They don’t listen to, believe or support victims. They make excuses for abusers. They get on social media with theories about how it is really all the fault of the victim for not holding more substantial boundaries. They pedal untruths about how easy it is to avoid abuse and how they would never stand for it without understanding the mechanics of the process. It’s not kindness and generosity that enables abuse, it’s wanting to blame something, anything, except the abuser themselves.

And yes, some people abuse because of their own pain and wounding, but many people are wounded and choose not to become abusive. It isn’t inevitable. It is a choice.

 


When you lose your mental health

It isn’t always obvious that you are in crisis. From inside a mental health crisis, what you are doing and feeling may well make perfect sense. Lockdown may make people more vulnerable to suffering the consequences of not knowing you are in trouble,  so I thought I’d talk about a few things to watch for, in yourself, and anyone you’re interacting with.

Paranoia is a likely consequence of poor mental health. It’s a form of anxiety, and right now it will be made worse by lack of contact with people who can offer alternatives, plus the vast array of conspiracy theories out there. If you are in a country whose government is handling the pandemic badly and people are dying because of that, then some amount of paranoia may be appropriate and reasonable. When it takes over your entire thought process, then you are in trouble, but this is hard to spot from the inside.

Catastrophising is another common consequence of failing mental health. You focus on the worst possible outcomes and start to see them as likely, or inevitable. Again this may seem wholly realistic. If you’re starting to feel like lockdown will never end, that you and everyone you have ever loved is bound to die, then you are catastrophising. It is a persuasive line of thought, but that doesn’t make it a definite truth.

Overwhelming futility – this one comes from depression, but it can pair up easily with paranoia and catastrophising. It feels like there is no point doing anything. At the extreme end, there seems to be no point getting out of bed, or eating. This is likely to turn up with, and be reinforced by overwhelming feels of exhaustion and leadenness.

The best solution I have found when dealing with this in better times, was to have people you can trust to hear you, not make you feel ridiculous and help you get things back in proportion. However, there is no knowing right now who else might be driven around the bend by what they are experiencing. If we dig in with these experiences together, we can amplify them for each other. It’s difficult to keep things in proportion when the world is such a mess. It’s hard to be certain that any kind of hope or optimism is rational at all. But in terms of surviving and being able to function, some kind of hope is essential. Hope as a deliberately chosen path, despite all the evidence that does not support it, might be the most insane and most healthy thing you can go for right now.

The other thing to always consider with failing mental health, is to focus on the practical and physical things. Look after your body, eat good food, rest, get exercise, get some sun if you can and some tree time. It gives your mind something productive to focus on and you can make a difference to yourself and those around you with a focus on bodily wellbeing. Focus on surviving and staying able to function. Hopefully there is a far side to all this where healing will be possible and we can rebuild ourselves. Human minds are fragile and damage easily, but are also resilient and can recover.


Self care, spirituality and lockdown

What self care looks like will depend entirely on who you are. If you’ve never had to think about this before, it will be a journey of discovery, and the things people tell you are good for you won’t necessarily turn out to help. What of your path will help you?

Meditation – you might find this calms you. Equally, you might find it stressful because you can’t concentrate. You may need to go deep into complex pathworkings, or you may just need to sit for five minutes looking at an oracle card for comfort.

Rituals and magic – you may be comforted by doing what you always do. You may be thwarted because your heart isn’t in it and you may need to do a radical re-think as a consequence. Protective magic may give you some feelings of being more in control, but make sure any magic you do is backed up by appropriate physical action.

Celebration and gratitude – that may be too hard right now. You may need to spend time with your fear and anger, and come back to gratitude practices when you’re more able to feel them. Or you may find that digging in with the gratitude helps you keep things in perspective. You may want to celebrate the small things more.

You may find that digging in with study and the intellectual aspects of your path is a good distraction. If deep thinking comforts you, now is a good time to get out the books. If you don’t have the concentration to learn something new, that’s ok too. Now may not be the time.

You may find that taking care of your space, honouring the spirits of place and working quietly with them will help you. If you don’t have the energy for cleaning or making altar spaces, think about what you can do that would help you and your home. If all you do is think about what you’d like to do when you feel up to it – that’s time well spent.

If you can’t connect directly with the natural world, this may be really affecting your well being as a Pagan. You might be able to ease this with meditations. If you can get outside at all, the earth will be below you and the sky above and even in the most urban settings it is possible to connect with the elements. Time spent at the least promising window can bring some sense of wildness.

You may find your comfort and sense of direction in helping others. Right now, leadership most assuredly has a place. Many people are in need of guidance and inspiration, support and healing. Be mindful of your own resources, but if this work lifts you up and gives you a sense of purpose, do it. Don’t martyr yourself though. Don’t burn out trying to do more than you can bear.

Whatever approaches you use, stay focused on just getting through this strange time. You don’t have to write a book or become an expert on an ancient civilization. You don’t have to learn flint knapping, or plant a herb garden or sew yourself the best imaginable robes. You can if you want to. The most important lessons in all of this will be the things you learn about what you truly need and what is genuinely powerful in your life.


What do I love?

I started falling in love with people when I was about fourteen. I did not know then that I had already found my adult form in terms of how I would love, but I’ve never changed. I was always plural, always passionate, able to love for the long haul from early on. My first attachments lasted years, some lasted decades. I wish I’d know that my heart deserved to be taken seriously.

One of the curious reoccurring themes is the number of people along the way who have told me that I can’t possibly love them because I don’t know them well enough. It is not them that I love, they tell me, but an idea of them that lives in my head. This raises so many interesting questions about what we think love is, how we think it happens, what we think it means and in what ways we will accept it from other people.

I’ve done love at first sight. I’ve done love at second email. I can fall for people slowly over time or in sudden heart explosions of dangerous proportions. Usually I know exactly what it is that I love – it tends to be about creativity, imagination, intensity, originality of thinking, kindness and generosity. I’m responsive to other people’s passion, to the folk who are inspired, driven and perfectly themselves. These are the things about people I fall in love with and by the time I mention it to anyone it will be because I’ve had time to be sure that what I’m seeing is probably real. I’ve made the odd mistake, but not many.

How I see people is not always how they see themselves. I know from experience that it can be challenging to have someone love you in ways you don’t recognise. Tom’s perception of me remains a long way from how I see myself. But, I think he’s entitled to that perception, and having known me closely for over a decade, differences of opinion are not measures of misunderstanding. Sometimes we see things in people they do not see in themselves. There is a loss of power, potentially, in someone loving an aspect of you that you cannot even see. It is confusing, but maybe it isn’t terrible and maybe they aren’t wrong.

How well do you need to know someone in order to love them? Can you simply love them for the fact of their existence? Can you love them with a spiritual love that sees the spark of the divine in all things? Does it matter? How much do we need to understand the exact reasons why another person undertakes to love us? Do we overcomplicate the natural affection of our creature selves?